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East finishes strong, earns first trip to state Final Four since 2008

The fourth quarter has been East's time to shine all season.

With a berth to the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association boys basketball semifinals on the line, the Panthers did just that once again in the final eight minutes.

East (18-6) turned a close game into a rout by crafting another big finish as the Section VI champions defeated Section V counterpart Clyde Savannah, 72-56, in the Class D Far West Regional at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.

Seniors Justin Allen and Willard Anderson each scored 27 points for the Panthers, who stepped up the defensive intensity and limited Clyde to just nine fourth-quarter points to punch their ticket to the state semifinals for the first time since they went as the Section VI Class A champion back in 2008.

"We've been trying since we were freshmen," said Allen, who also grabbed a game-high 20 rebounds. "Freshman year, we fell short at regionals. … Now that we've finally made it, it feels good.  ... Everybody likes winners."

East will face Section X champion Harrisville at 9:30 a.m. Friday in Floyd L. Maines Arena in Binghamton. Harrisville defeated III-McGraw, 66-55, in another state quarterfinal game Saturday afternoon.

It's the second year the Final Four is taking place in Binghamton after being a staple in Glens Falls for decades.

"It's new for me because it's Binghamton. I'm used to Glens Falls," said Panthers coach Starling Bryant, who guided defunct Buffalo Traditional to three state championships and a Federation title during his 22-year coaching career. "That's where I've always gone so it's a new experience for me also, but I'm looking forward to it. When we start in November, this is the ultimate goal to get to the state championship and win it."

Two more big finishes like Saturday's and East could very well achieve it.

A couple sloppy moments at the end of the second and third quarters blunted East momentum and created an anybody's ball game scenario. Clyde trailed by one at halftime after a steal and layup in the closing seconds of the second quarter by Dererick Chance (19 points). Four points in the final five seconds of the third quarter, including the stealing of the inbounds after a basket, pulled the Golden Eagles within 50-47.

That's as close as they got as East's defense picked it up, forcing three turnovers as it scored the first 10 points of the fourth to seize control for good. Anderson had six of those points – both coming on three-pointers. Allen made a steal and finished off the fast break with a one-handed jam. Anderson and Allen combined for 16 of the Panthers' 22 fourth-quarter points.

"At this point of the year we know we're either eight minutes from going home or eight minutes away from advancing to the next round so we have to play serious," Allen said. "We have to play hard."

Marcus Chance finished with 25 points for Clyde Savannah (21-5), but it wasn't the Golden Eagles' day.

"It's the greatest accomplishment in my whole four years at East," Anderson said. "It feels great and wonderful."

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